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"Christmas makes me want to gouge my own eyes out and scream..."

"Christmas makes me want to gouge my own eyes out and scream..."

busy mum
I do love Christmas - honestly I do - it's just that also it makes me want to gouge my own eyes out and scream...
It's November, since when did Christmas fall in November? In fact, truth be told, Christmas started with Halloween in some Cork shops this year... is this new? It certainly feels new.
Have you noticed that in recent years people are referring to Christmas as 'stressful' more and more often? The shops have been decorated for weeks now, the TV and social media ads inescapable, and Mariah is belting out her Christmas wants again already...
The hype is bigger than ever  - but to what end?
Where has the Christmas Spirit gone??
Other than the obvious lucrative advantages for some businesses, I see no advantage to the growing mania we now seem have at this time of year. What I can see though, is pressure. Pressure to buy, to conform, to be happy, festive, cheerful. To be with people around which we are uncomfortable, to drink more than is healthy, to eat more than is good. Sadly, Christmas Spirit has morphed into Christmas Stress, and we are almost accepting of that fact - in that we are doing little to change it. Of course I'm aware that it's hard to change something when such powerful forces as the media and business drive it.  Perhaps also, to our credit, we fear or assume that we are the only ones experiencing the pain, loneliness and pressure that we are now collectively inflicting upon ourselves at this time of year. And fear and assumptions can often make us stuck.
So in this piece I thought I’d share with you some of the most common (yes, they’re common, you’re absolutely not a freak!:)) concerns that parents in particular bring into therapy during the 'festive' season. Because it doesn’t always feel festive.  Being aware of, and caring about how we feel is so very, very important.  At this time of year we are at risk of dismissing our feelings, while at the same time being overwhelmed by them.
And so, in no particular order, and in Q&A form:

Q: How will I fit everyone in? Visiting, hosting, feeding??!
A: You mightn't.  That’s the reality. When we accept the uncertainty around this then we experience less stress. No one expects more of you than you do of yourself. And also know this: other peoples’ enjoyment is not your responsibility. This might feel alien to you, but it’s true now, as it is true at all times. #TipForLife
This is the time when we are most likely to spend time with people with whom we are mildly uncomfortable, all the way up to terrified. You're probably picturing people right now as you read. It's OK to avoid these people  - tradition is simply habit, it's not a rule. Thankfully, traditions can be dropped, changed or even reinvented. If the choice to visit someone is ultimately better for you than to avoid them, then I suggest you limit your time, and set up a reward for yourself for afterwards. This'll give you something nice to think about while you're grinning and bearing.
Again though - check if you're certain that the risk is worth it. Particularly if the person / people are abusive. Even (for some, especially) if they are family.
(This is also a good and useful skill to teach your own children. It's OK to avoid people that cause pain. Tradition can change, even where there is resistance. It only takes one person – and it might be you!)
Q: I can't afford the latest gadgets for my kids - what will I do?
A: It's true, your kids may want the newer cooler ‘whatever’, but the reality may well be that you cannot provide it. Some parents find this more difficult than others. Saying ‘no’ can be hard at the best of times, or embarrassing if it’s for purely financial reasons. But here’s the thing – it’s OK, good even, to say no to children. We are teaching them that 'wanting' is not the same as 'being entitled to'.  This is an essential lesson for all little (and large) humans who need to function in a group / society/ country. There is no shame. Please don’t feel shame.
Plus, in ten years’ time it is likely that your children won’t remember what you gave them each Christmas or how much it cost. They will remember how they felt, the time you spent with them, the atmosphere in your home, your mood. The label and price tag on their toy /gadget will pale in comparison to the value of their relationship with you.

Here are some compromise ideas:
  • Look through local charity shops, eBay, online bargain basements, local swap sites - check Facebook.
  • If you feel comfortable enough with them, suggest to your extended family that instead of gifts, they give small amounts of cash to your child/children. It teaches your kids about the value of and responsibility for money,  and it eases your burden.
  • If you can afford to do so, consider buying just one device for your kids to share. This might cause friction... but learning to cooperate is part of learning to be a human!
Q: How can I afford to buy all the gifts that I want to buy for everyone else?
A: By being realistic. If you are a ‘normal’ person, you have a limited amount of money. This won’t change in the next few weeks, barring a lotto win! My suggestion is that you sit down with yourself and write a list of who you want to buy for and how much you are willing to spend.

While you’re doing this, remember that your friendship/relationship doesn’t depend on how much you spend on your gift. (If it does, then perhaps your concern belongs with the relationship, not the gift).

Another idea is to sit down with your friends and consider making an agreement either to not buy each other gifts, or to have a strict limit on how much you spend on a token gift and stick to it. You’ll most likely hear a series of relieved breathes.

If it's too late and you've splashed out, don't be afraid to return for the refund. Your peace of mind has more value than anything you've bought.
Q: When will I get my Christmas outfit? My hair done? My nails done? 
A: I'll answer with another question: are these essentials? As with visiting and catering, this is one of those rituals that we've come to think of as essentials.  In truth though, they are treats, and if you really have the money and the time, go for it. Because, yes, you ARE worth it – but only if it doesn't come at a personal cost!! If a treat becomes an ordeal, then... is it truly a treat?
Q: What's wrong with me that I don't feel happy like all the shiny families in the ads?
A: Nothing.
Yes, nothing. The madness is around us, not in us. And in the next piece I'll share with you some practical ideas around saving your sanity this Christmas - they take little effort, and like I said, you are indeed worth it.
Sally O’Reilly is a Psychologist, Psychotherapist & Clinical Supervisor in private practice in East Cork with twenty years’ full time experience. She has a special interest in working with teenagers. For more info contact her through her site or on Twitter @psychosal or FB Sally O'Reilly Psychology & Psychotherapy.